Chelsea 2013, some thoughts from Anne Wareham

May 21, 2013

in Articles, Editorial, Events, General Interest, Shows

Prince Harry's garden for the charity Sentebale by Jinny Blom for Chelsea 2013 copyright Charles Hawes

An ash tray and helipad?

This year was marked for me by having one garden that shocked me by its badness, and one that delighted me. And the other remarkable thing was the extent of agreement about both those things amongst the people I talked to.

Prize for shock went to Jinny Blom’s garden for Prince Harry and his charity Sentebale, based in Lesotho. I met people who were horrified, I met people who were angry, I met people who were bewildered. And some who tried hard to find good things to say – the planting gained some appreciation.

Prince Harry's garden for the charity Sentebale, by Jinny Blom for Chelsea 2013 copyright Charles Hawes

I think of Jinny Blom as a great designer, with a sensitivity to both her clients and the location of the gardens she designs. On her website she says :

The process of designing has become, for us, a well-considered progression through analysis of the location we inherit, understanding our clients, their lives and their wishes, the soil, the existing plants and creatures living there, the wider landscape and the climate.

I understand that when she designed this Chelsea garden she hadn’t visited the location, which may explain why two people I met, who both knew Lesotho, were clear that the garden bore no relation to the place. And disliked the stereotypical take on Africa.

Well, there are often surprisingly poor gardens at Chelsea. The interesting question for thinkingardeners will be how the media present and manage to praise this garden. We know all gardens are lovely, and this one has Princess Diana and royalty at its heart. The RHS have had the courage to award Silver Gilt. But will anyone dare ‘lovely’ this time ?

It was suggested to me that the spin would be something like ‘interesting and challenging’. We’ll see.

The delight was Christopher Bradley-Hole’s garden for the Telegraph.

Telegraph Garden, Christopher Bradley-Hole, Chelsea 2013 copyright Charles Hawes

View from the rail.

This garden had a wonderful simplicity – and a great deal of delightful and intricate detail in the planting. One of the joys was the beautiful wooden railing surrounding the garden, enabling us to lean (no glass, sadly, but there’s the ideal place for it) and enjoy.

Telegraph Garden, Christopher Bradley-Hole, Chelsea 2013 copyright Charles Hawes.2

closer…

And no doubt you will read pages and pages of further detail elsewhere. The ‘theme’ – a homage to the British landscape and its history, is one close to my heart, and its interpretation was not heavy handed and clunky, Chelsea style.

And one of the best things is that this is clearly and honestly a garden to be looked at. A show garden. There is no path or hut that the frustrated Chelsea goer will only be able to imagine experiencing. The visitor will not be short changed or frustrated. It’s designed for them, to lean on the rail (if they can get at it) and enjoy.

And no reason why a garden at home shouldn’t be just that too. A great inspiration here, though I hate that representation of what a garden is for. Year round delight, I’d say. Along with my last year’s choice  a rarity: a Chelsea garden which made sense and spoke to me.

Neither won best in show…

(and here’s what Christopher Bradley-Hole thought  and then what Tim Richardson thought.

Anne Wareham, editor

A delinquent photographer in the Telegraph Garden, Chelsea Flower Show, (Marianne Majerus). Copyright Anne Wareham

A delinquent photographer (Marianne Majerus). In walkway at the back of the garden..

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Susanna May 25, 2013 at 3:23 pm

And what about the Cloudy Bay Garden designed by Andrew Wilson and Gavin McWilliam. A beautiful garden, well executed and on brief – awarded – Silver Gilt. Reasons given by the assessors – roof of pavilion too high (?), (moveable) chairs in the wrong place and stream not visible from the garden (designed for dangling toes in whilst drinking a glass of Cloudy Bay). Clearly a Gold Medal winning garden – I wonder what the reasons really were for this judging decision?

annewareham May 25, 2013 at 5:35 pm

I understand Andrew is considering resigning from the RHS judging panel as a result…

Adam Hodge October 19, 2013 at 11:16 am

Can you blame him !
This highlights too problems-criticism has been exercised and how ridiculous it is ! The critics are, one assumes, worthy of balanced judgement and yet what utterly pathetic and silly criticisms they have made.

Just shows how dangerous ‘criticism ‘ is.

annewareham October 19, 2013 at 11:52 am

Hoist by your own petard, here, Adam? Or is there an explanation which doesn’t shut all of us, even you, up?

Adam Hodge October 19, 2013 at 12:55 pm

What did YOU make, Anne to the criticisms of the judges ?

Don’t you think it shows how careful one must be in the delivery of comments/criticism?

annewareham October 19, 2013 at 4:11 pm

The truth is that it’s now too long ago for me to remember accurately. or I’m sure I would have much comment to make. Your point about care in criticism is, of course, spot on – it is an art and a skill in its own right.

Faisal Grant May 24, 2013 at 1:09 pm

Niceness kills, and it’s invigorating, Anne, that you’re prepared to air what you feel and perceive.

Louisa Jones May 24, 2013 at 11:00 am

How can I find out more about how the Bradley-Hole garden represents the history of British landscapes? it must be in the choice of plants? I’m not very familiar with websites about Chelsea as i don’t usually follow it but would like to know this, as the pictures make it look like a fairly standard version of “fusion” gardening, not linked to place and this might not be true at all.
also, any feedback on “After the Fire”? thanks, Louisa

annewareham May 24, 2013 at 11:55 am

Does this help? http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/chelseaflowershow/10065192/Chelsea-Flower-Show-2013-a-closer-look-at-the-Telegraph-garden.html
Otherwise I can direct you to books on UK landscape history. The idea that people first made the clearings of woodland is now generally not accepted, but the gist is right…
You may find this illuminating too – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/letters/10069302/An-English-garden-so-where-are-the-turbines.html

After the Fire? – it was very worthy and ecological so a natural winner in these religious times.

Louisa Jones May 24, 2013 at 2:18 pm

yes, the Telegraph article really a big help, thanks. I’ll say “no” to histories of British landscape, the Mediterranean is keeping me fully occupied, thanks. However I’d like to know just a bit more why you say that “the clearings of woodland is not now generally accepted”? Coming back to the Chelsea garden, this really IS fusion design in an important sense, as least as it is described here. The representation of landscape history is however universal enough to apply to many other parts of Europe as well as Britain? But obviously the target audience at Chelsea is British. A nice concept and it looks beautiful. Your comment on “After the Fire” is a little tendencious? (did I spell that right?) That’s the point of this site anyway I guess. James Basson is not at all militant though and I think is more interested in exploring the relationship between human land use, including gardens, and natural energies than in preaching. Are there any descriptions of that garden as full as the one you recommended on Bradley-Hole’s?

annewareham May 25, 2013 at 6:23 pm

Taking first last, sorry – I would Google it if I were you – I don’t have details on that garden to hand.

The idea that people created the spaces in the post ice age forest is discredited only because natural events,(tree death) weather and animals are considered to have made their contributions. As no doubt on the continent, which we were, after all, joined to for a long time. In fact there is also a case made that that is why our language has Germanic roots, not because of a few thousand ‘Anglo Saxons’.

Yes it is a fusion garden, if we’re keen on labelling. And it is beautiful, with a simplicity and delicious detail which reward contemplation.

Louisa Jones May 26, 2013 at 11:01 am

My questions have to do not with labelling but with determining the ways in which this garden, so much admired, embodies local, national and universal references. As an outsider, I find these intermingling levels fascinating but understand that your readership may not. Similarly in the second context: I don’t know any historian who has ever assumed that people were the only agent in clearing primeaval forests. The whole idea seems very naive and I’m glad it no longer holds sway. In this regard also, local variation plays a large part. The “continent” is not the same all over. Recent studies show that the same dense primeval forest did not cover all of Europe but that Mediterranean vegetation was always sparse and lower growing even in paleolithic times, with different results for human behavior, north and south. But as this is not your main concern here, I’ll bow out, thank you.

annewareham May 26, 2013 at 12:40 pm

Thanks Louisa – and your interests probably do reflect the interests of some of thinkingardens readers.

People are naive about prehistory – a great many people in Wales believe they are descended from ‘Celtic’ invaders..

detlev brinkschulte May 23, 2013 at 12:10 pm

I guess the reason nobody is “reviewing” the garden is that it could be read as “against” the charity ( + a royal background?) & there are always the professional networks lurking in the background…

One aim of the garden is reached anyway: a lot of press for Sentebale.

Found the statements concerning judgement by Bradley-Hole & Nordfjell quite interesting…

By the way are there any non-uk judges? or are the considered an “invasive species” in an british institution? 😉

ps: theres a review by tom hoblyn on the Guardian website now.

annewareham May 23, 2013 at 4:40 pm

Thanks for this and here is a link to that article in the Guardian – which is strangely different in its response from that of the people I met on press day (astonishing). http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/gardening-blog/2013/may/23/chelsea-flower-show-expert-view

The issue re the judges is a familiar one – it may even have been discussed on this site (I can’t remember) but I’m not qualified to comment apart from saying I believe they are all British.

Tristan Gregory May 22, 2013 at 7:17 pm

Having no understanding of the Chelsea process I can only imagine that the presentation of meaning is far more difficult than the presentation of either the conceptual or the straight beautiful.

If the Garden has failed it is that rather than presenting the harshness and difficulties of Lesotho life in one clearly concieved image supported by excellent horticulture and design it appears to have served up Lesotho on a plate (or three) with some garden garnish because it is the RHS after all.

If this is the fault of the designer then the designer should be made aware that they have failed and let down their sponsor but if the brief was too vague and the designer unguided in the process of its realisation then the responsibility is shared.

annewareham May 23, 2013 at 4:41 pm

Quite. Yes.

mike gerrard May 22, 2013 at 6:31 pm

I have to confess to being more than a little uneasy about this ‘review’ of Jinny Blom’s design and would like to make the following points;

You give reasons why you are fond of Christopher Bradley-Hole’s garden, but no reasons why Jinny Bloms is bad

Saying a garden is “bad” because you don’t like it or even because lots of other people don’t like it is not a valid review. Does this sit well with the thinkinggardens ethos I’m thinking?

If you had said that the garden was bad in your opinion because it ‘didn’t appear to illustrate the subject, lacked cohesion, contained an uneasy mix of verbose surface decoration and simplistic 3d forms leaving you with a puzzling feeling of disconnected-ness’ I could appreciate that as a person who hasn’t seen it in the flesh—, though I might not agree that it was bad because of this.

If I did see it and think that it was bad, I would say why I felt that way but it would still be only my opinion, not an absolute truth

I have two allergies, hay fever and cultural one-upmanship. As I get older the hay fever is less of a problem, but my nose is beginning to twitch this week!

I’m not trying to defend Jinny Blom. I have never met her but I am sure she is well able to defend herself if she feels she needs to.
Ridiculing a design by likening parts of it to a dog basket tends to reflect badly on the person doing the slanging, so she may not feel she has to say anything.

Jinny really should have gone there first though, IMHO

annewareham May 22, 2013 at 6:36 pm

Sorry – my point really was not to review that garden – shouldn’t have used that term. My interest is in the universal condemnation it received and what the press and garden media would do with that.

I don’t actually feel competent to review either garden in depth, as they ought to be reviewed. So you are right. My apologies. I have changed my title.

Vanessa Gardner Nagel May 22, 2013 at 5:01 pm

I am a continent and an ocean away from you, so I virtually appreciate the photos and comments about the Chelsea Flower Show. I have taken the opportunity to see a number of photos of some of the gardens, including the two you’ve shared, Anne. My initial gut reaction to the garden photos (before my brain kicked in to think too much) has lead me to agree completely with you about the two gardens you’ve shared. I am a fan of Bradley-Hole’s work because I love simplicity. I think he captured the essence (as from a distance or from an airplane) of the English countryside. The other garden feels unnatural, forced, and does not convey the message that it should have expressed. A pity when you think of the money poured into it and its potential.

James Golden May 22, 2013 at 1:46 pm

You got it with ashtray and helipad. The brown round thing made me think of a 1970s “conversation pit” done in 100% polyester rug. It’s not just unsuccessful, it’s ugly. What could have happened? I usually like Jinny Blom’s work.

annewareham May 22, 2013 at 2:40 pm

Yes, me too. Well I bet no-one’s going to ask her….

Jane Megginson May 22, 2013 at 12:41 pm

I suppose a lot of us were told, as we were growing up, that if we couldn’t find something nice to say about someone/something, to say nothing.

annewareham May 22, 2013 at 1:37 pm

Fair enough – in social contexts. Don’t want that from restaurant critics, book reviewers or indeed, garden journalists.

Jane Megginson May 22, 2013 at 12:14 pm

Thank heavens Anne, I thought it was me that didn’t ‘get’ the Sentabale garden.

annewareham May 22, 2013 at 12:29 pm

You are certainly not alone. It’s bad though that people won’t tell the truth? And this was unanimous amongst everyone I met on press day.

Thomas Rainer May 22, 2013 at 2:26 am

Great review, Anne.

annewareham May 22, 2013 at 8:40 am

Thanks, Thomas.

Elspeth Briscoe May 21, 2013 at 10:58 pm

Why don’t they change the time of year for Chelsea? Shake it up a bit? Would make people use different plants at least. Just a thought..

*Looks forward to popping by to a stunning Winter Chelsea next year*

annewareham May 22, 2013 at 8:39 am

Yes – time we had a late summer one – such an important and perhaps neglected time. We always get more visitors at Veddw later, when NGS gardens close. But – it’s the ‘season’ sets the agenda, isn’t it?

Helen May 22, 2013 at 8:49 am

I liked Noel’s suggestion that we have show gardens that are in situ for some months like they do in France and Germany and that way the gardens are more realistic and you can see them through the whole season. I remember them doing something like that at Westonbirt a while back but they were more conceptual gardens.

annewareham May 22, 2013 at 8:53 am

Well, that has been tried once or twice in uk and not gone down well. Chaumont gardens are conceptualish – see http://thinkingardens.co.uk/events/chaumont-2012-reviewed-by-anne-hanley/

Julia May 21, 2013 at 9:17 pm

Not sure why you still go Anne. Read Noel’s latest for an ethical piece.

annewareham May 21, 2013 at 9:45 pm

I’m not strong on ethics – and Noel never goes, does he?

Susan ITPH May 22, 2013 at 5:28 pm

I thought he went last year. Or maybe he just “e-visited” like the rest of us.

annewareham May 22, 2013 at 6:37 pm

Must confess I haven’t been following his movements in detail! But you may be right. He is an irregular attender, perhaps?

annewareham May 21, 2013 at 9:50 pm

I’m not big on gardens and ethics. Noel never goes, does he? And the Telegraph garden was well worth the trip.

Elizabeth Cornwell May 21, 2013 at 6:50 pm

I thought it was horrible, & what was the dog basket doing in the middle of it?Helxine,or babies tears or whatever you want to call it is horribly invasive.Loved the Telegraph garden

annewareham May 22, 2013 at 8:40 am

You are in a majority. Would you know it?

landscapelover May 21, 2013 at 3:41 pm

This is the first piece I’ve read on this year’s Chelsea, apart from a headline on an Aussie website trumpeting the Best in Show, which apparently went down under.

The Jinny Blom garden looks dreadful – the brown structure looks to me like a dog’s basket and the whole thing like a dog’s breakfast. Maybe her show gardens let her down? I remember writing about one of her designs, sponsored by Laurent Perrier at the Tuileries garden show a few years ago, which photographed well but looked just awful in real life.

annewareham May 22, 2013 at 8:41 am

Maybe she hasn’t got her heart in show gardens. And maybe some designers love them best of all?

detlev brinkschulte May 21, 2013 at 2:10 pm

have seen the gardens only on photos and tv.
christopher bradley-hole’s garden would make a good hortus conclusus with a closed walkway & from above: a great map.
the willows in jinny blom´s garden! i just love kopfweiden…
ash tray? well, i always need one in a garden… cigarette butts aren´t “lovely” in a border

annewareham May 22, 2013 at 8:42 am

OK – ashtray is functional. But unpleasant.

Helen May 21, 2013 at 1:52 pm

Did you see the piece on Jinny’s garden on the BBC last night – she explained her references and she was in Lesotho but it did seem that the garden had already been designed by then. I have to admit that I thought the floating thing was rather strange and I didnt think the ‘hut’ was very representative of the ones in the film. However I assumed as a mere viewer, whose press application had been ignored, that I wasn’t getting it.

I do like the look of the Telegraph garden and I like that you say it is for looking at. My fustration when I have visited was that as a visitor you had the wrong view of the garden being stood on the outside looking in.

Yours in only the two article I have read on Cheslea this year – am deliberately avoiding the gushing

annewareham May 21, 2013 at 2:12 pm

o, the gushing… I avoid it too. Including television..

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